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ATAR or IB: Which path should you choose?

ATAR or IB: Which path should you choose?

It’s that time of year when year 10 are getting ready to enter one of the programs available to them. Many high school students are at crossroads as to what pathway they should take: ATAR or IB. The IB (International Baccalaureate Diploma Program) is being increasingly offered as an option in private schools (and even a few public schools). The question is, is it worth changing schools in for Year 11 and 12 in order to gain this international qualification?

Whether you undertake the ATAR or IB is not an easy decision to make. You need to consider your strengths, what you will enjoy more and what you hope to get out of the program. This article will guide you through essential knowledge about the two, very different programs.

If you choose to study for an IB you may need to change schools


ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) is the standard measure of a student’s overall academic achievement in relation to other students in the country. This system is unique to  Australia.

Each state has a slightly different variation of the program. Each state offers the ATAR along with a different school leaving credential:

This means that instead of being ranked against every leaving student in Australia, you are ranked against other students in your state.

Students in year 12 take the ATAR course. The year 11 preliminary course accompanies this. The final ATAR does not consider marks from the preliminary course. Students who excel can take the preliminary course in year 10. This allows for the final year course to be studied for longer.

The only subject that is compulsory to receive an ATAR is English, worth 2 units. Subjects of your liking can fill the remaining 8 units (a total of 10 goes towards your ATAR). All subjects are offered at a standard level and advanced level. Because of such varying levels of difficulty, each subject is scaled. Your final mark is compared with other students to produce your final ATAR. 

Helpful: 8 different ways to get into uni (if you don’t get the ATAR you need)

Sitting exams to obtain an ATAR


IB (International Baccalaureate Diploma Program) is an international education system. This system was founded in Switzerland in 1968 and is used around the world. It was originally intended for students at international schools so they could freely move between schools in different countries.  The qualification is internationally recognised and almost all universities and colleges accept the diploma which spans over two years. 

The IB has very structured subjects. You must choose six subjects from six separate subject areas: English, maths, a foreign language, a science, a humanities subject and an arts subject. The student must study at least three at standard level and the other three at high level. As well as passing an exam in each subject, IB students must also complete three other core requirements:

  1. An extended essay (EE) of up to 4,000 words on a topic of their choice
  2. Theory of knowledge (TOK), which is a 1,600-word essay and oral presentation on a chosen topic
  3. Creativity, activity, service (CAS), which is similar to the Duke of Edinburgh scheme

Unlike the ATAR, the IB program does not scale marks.

To learn more about the IB system, click here.

STEM Academy is an International Baccalaureate school


  • The IB is good for international study while the ATAR is better if you plan to study in Australia. Having said this, it is not impossible to study abroad with an ATAR. 
  • ATAR allows you to study subjects you are good at and enjoy. It also provides an opportunity to specialise. The IB gives a more rounded education which is helpful in achieving prerequisites for universities internationally. 
  • ATAR is what most people will take in Australia. If you thrive with a good study network and love to bounce ideas off others, this is a great option for you. IB will have fewer people taking it, which equates to more personal student teacher ratios, but less fellow students to share your pain. 
  • The ATAR is one year long which puts more stress on that yearm but less stress on year 11. IB requires a strong focus in year 11 and less stress in year 12. This is because it is graded over the full two years of senior study.

Feature image by javier trueba; carrying books by Element5 Digital; exams via Flickr CC0 license.