ATAR and the QCE (Queensland Certificate of Education)

This year has ushered in a significant change in the culture of senior education right across the state – a natural consequence of a system that has moved towards end of year exams that are externally set, and externally marked. Understandably a number of misconceptions can and do arise about the role Year 11 plays in ATAR and QCE. The explanation that follows is in some instances particular to St Patrick’s College and our response to the curriculum changes

Does Year 11 count for the QCE?              The short answer is yes.

All students, irrespective of subject or course choice, are eligible for the Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE). Students MUST acquire at least 20 credits to obtain a QCE. 12 credits – ‘Core Credits’ – must come from subjects studied for the full two years (Those credits are only earned if a student passes the units). This limits the number of times a student can make a subject change.

Does Year 11 count for ATAR?                   Yes it does, but in a different way.

Unit 3 of ATAR, begins in September of Year 11 and the first of the four Summative Assessments occurs in all subjects at the end of Grade 11. The assessment in Units 1 and 2 of Year 11, January to August, mirrors the style and type of assessment in Unit 3 and 4. The marking guides for subjects in ATAR are unique and specific not only to each subject, but to each piece of assessment within each subject. Familiarising students with the required standard starts at the beginning of Year 11 and is essential for success in the summative exams. This is so, because the mark allocation on the marking guides (or ISMGs) determines where the emphasis lies in a subject. Teacher lesson planning takes its cue from the marking guide in order to determine where the emphasis in a teaching program ought to lie. Not to do so, means that a false impression would be created about what skills really count in a subject. One feature is clearer now then it was in the ‘old’ system – those students who are proficient readers and thus read with understanding are at a significant advantage over those who do not read.

While a student pass or fail in a subject for Unit 1 and Unit 2, does count toward or contribute to the QCE, passes and fails in Units 1 and 2 do not contribute to the ATAR calculation.

To put it simply:

  • No Unit is a dress rehearsal for the QCE – every pass or fail counts.
  • Unit 1 and 2 are dress rehearsals for the ATAR

The new system, to a greater extent than the old, tests a student’s reasoning ability. Developing this capacity for abstract reasoning is a lengthy process that demands sustained commitment and practice. This ‘mental fitness’ is acquired in exactly the same way as one acquires physical fitness – sustained effort over a lengthy time period. It does not happen in a ‘weekend-before-the-deadline’ burst of effort. There are few ‘light-bulb moments’ where students just ‘get it.’

Complex academic skills – what are referred to as the ‘cognitive verbs’ - are acquired more as a result of practice than explanation. The same rule applies to even the most basic physical skill – such as driving a car where explanation is no substitute for practice.

To qualify for an ATAR, a student must complete three Internal Summative Assessments and one External Summative Exam in each subject:

If the (3+1) is not completed, then the affected subject/s cannot contribute to the student’s ATAR score.

  • The implications of this for families are significant.
  • If a student misses any Summative Assessment because his/her parents have booked a family holiday, (or an Ed Sheeran concert), neither this College, nor any school in the state, is allowed under QCAA rules, to reschedule an exam.
  • All the work, over the two year period for that subject, is then forfeited

For more information please go to the QTAC site at

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