As the final years of school approach, students begin to worry about subject selection and how they will be assessed for tertiary entrance. For many, this means taking a close look at the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), and in particular, subject scaling.
What is a VCE study score?
Your VCE study score is a number between 0 and 50 that indicates how you have performed overall in a particular VCE subject, compared to other students in Victoria.
Study scores are based on your results in your School Assessed Coursework assessments (SACS) and an (externally assessed) end-of-semester exam.
There is a total of three graded assessment tasks (with the exception of VCE VET subjects which have only two). The marks from these are designed to give you a measure of your achievement, regardless of which school you attend.
But the study score is not actually a score out of 50 - it's a ranking. A relative position that shows where you stand compared to all other students who took that subject in that year. There are 2 ways of looking at this score: the 'raw' score and the 'scaled' score.
What is a raw score?
Your raw study score is a ranking between 0 and 50, where 30 is the average. It's based purely on how well you did compared to your peers in your year. Imagine a bell curve, with the majority of students in the middle and a small number at each extreme. Your 'raw study score' is your position along that curve.
For example, if you scored a 30, that would mean you performed better than about 50% of students who did that subject, whereas if you scored a raw study score of 40 you would have performed better than roughly 91% of all students who took that subject in that year.
Raw study scores, however, don't take into account the strength of the student competition, and as a result the difficulty to score well.
To equalise things, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) scales each subject's results so there is a consistent level of achievement across all subjects. This is your scaled score.
What is a scaled score?
Your scaled study score is designed to take into account different difficulty levels between subjects (for instance, the three levels of mathematics) as well as how academically strong the students were in the subject.
Scaling doesn't relate to the complexity of the subject as some might think. Instead, it has to do with how competitive the subject is.
In simple terms, this means if you take a subject, like Specialist Maths, in which it is harder to score well in because the competition is higher, your raw score will be adjusted upwards. In contrast, if you take a less competitive subject, like Further Maths, your score will be scaled down.
How do study scores get scaled?
In each subject, the raw study scores are scaled (adjusted) so that the distribution of scores in that subject matches the distribution of scores obtained by the same group of students in all of their other subjects.
For example, in 2020, the average study score for Chemistry was 30, but all of the students who took Chemistry averaged 34 for all their studies. This shows that the cohort who did Chem were of above-average strength in their other studies. The scaling process accounts for this added difficulty, by adjusting the study scores upwards. So, the average VTAC study score for Chemistry in 2020 moved from 30 to 34. All the chemistry study scores are then recalculated around this new average of 34.
In other words, your score is scaled up or down to reflect how you did in comparison to your peers - not just in that subject, but across all their subjects.
Why are VCE study scores scaled?
Scaled scores guarantee that all VCE studies are treated equally. It is a fair system that allows students to undertake the studies they want and enables tertiary institutions to compare students who have completed different combinations of VCE subjects.
Study scores are scaled up if the student competition in a subject is higher so the students doing that subject are not unfairly disadvantaged. Similarly, the study scores are adjusted downwards if the strength of the student competition is lower so the students undertaking that study are not unfairly advantaged.
Should I choose high-scaling subjects?
Definitely not. You should study VCE subjects that you love and that you're good at. If you want to know how to get a high ATAR, you should aim for strong results (40+ raw scores) in four or five subjects, rather than getting 50s in two subjects and lower scores in the others.
It's a common misconception that choosing subjects with high scaling is the way to go. But the reality is, if you're not interested in the subject and don't do well in it, your ATAR will suffer as a result.
Passion breeds success
It's pretty simple. If you enjoy a subject, chances are you'll perform better in it. So, if you're passionate about Visual Communication and Design, go for it - regardless of its scaling.
A high raw score that scales down, will likely produce better results than a low score (from a subject you dislike) that scales up. So don't just choose science subjects or more difficult mathematics studies - pick ones that both complement your interests or are required for future study.
VCE subject scaling - Top 10
To give you a better idea of how subject scaling works, we've put together a list of the 10 most popular VCE studies and their 2021 scores after their scaling adjustment.
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What subjects are scaled up in VCE?
Latin undoubtedly has the biggest scaling adjustment every year, with the average study score of 30 being scaled up to a massive 46 in 2021.
There are also other languages that are considered high-scaling subjects. For instance, Chinese Second Language, Hebrew and French all saw their raw 30 get scaled to 40, 41 and 43 respectively.
The other language subjects that see a large increase in scores after scaling include German (30 scaled to 39), as well as Hindi and Japanese Second Language which both received a 38.
It's not just language subjects that get a significant scaling boost. Students that undertake Specialist Mathematics also see large bumps to their scores, with an average score of 30, last year, being increased to an impressive 42.
Which VCE subject scales down the most?
There are a few studies that consistently get scaled down each year. If you scored a 30 in Agricultural and Horticultural Studies, Food Studies and Product Design and Technology in 2021, this would have dropped down to 23.
The following subjects were all reduced to 24: Industry and Enterprise, Outdoor and Environmental Studies and Systems Engineering.
Other notable mentions that get scaled down from 30, include Business Management (26), Art (26), Health and Human Development (26), Studio Arts (25), Data Analytics (25), Sociology (25) and Media (25). All three History subjects scale down anywhere from 1-3 points unless you score above 40, in which case your score remains largely unaffected.
If you're considering taking any VCE VET subjects, be aware that, unless you're scoring a raw 50, they all scale down.
In order to be eligible for an ATAR, students need to complete one of these four English studies and each one has a slightly different scaling adjustment.
English (the most popular one) scales down by roughly 1-3, depending on how well you perform. Last year a 35 reduced to 33 and a raw 40 moved down to a 39. Only those who scored 45+ were free from any adjustment decreases.
Literature in contrast generally scales up a little bit, by 1-2 points. So if you scored a 35, this was increased to a 37 and those who got 40 saw this jump to 41.
English (EAL) hardly sees any movement and is one of the more stable subjects when it comes to scaling. If you scored a 35, this would become a 34 and if you got a 45, this would increase slightly to a 46.
English Language is the highest scaling English subject and usually sees an increase of up to 3 points. So last year, if you scored a 40 in this study, it would be increased to a 43.
Further Maths, generally considered the least competitive VCE maths subject is also the most popular. Each year Further maths scores are scaled down by about 1-3 points and in 2021, this meant that a 30 became a 27 and a 40 was decreased to a 38.
Maths Methods on the other hand, due to the high student competition, usually scales up by up to 5 points. So if you got a 30 in this subject, it would be increased to a 35 and if you scored 40, this would be pushed up to 45.
Specialist Maths is considered one of the most competitive VCE studies and is also the highest scaling maths study. In 2021, a 35 was increased to a 47 and a 45 was scaled up to 54!
Chemistry is the highest scaling science subject. Due to the competitive student cohort, last year, most scores increased by 4 points - a 40 scaled up to a solid 44.
Physics is the second highest scaling science and usually increases by 2 points.
In Biology, a 30 score usually stays around a 30. But last year anything higher saw an increase of roughly 1 point.
Psychology, unlike the others, actually scales down. In 2021, a 35 dropped to 34, and a score of 30 reduced to 28.
How important are VCE study scores?
Your ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) is calculated using English and your best subjects - so it's not just one high or low score that will make or break your chances of getting into your dream course.
How are study scores used?
Study scores are mainly used by universities to help them choose which students to offer places to. But they're also used by employers and scholarship providers to pick out high-performing students.
Your ATAR will also be based on your VTAC scaled study scores obtained, so if you're hoping to go to university, they'll be pretty important!
The VCE Scaling Report
The Scaling Report is released every year and details how a raw study score has been scaled for each VCE subject. The report is generated using data from all the students who sat the VCE that year.
This report is important because it shows you how competitive certain subjects might be and gives you an insight into the scaling process.
It can be especially helpful if you're unable to decide between multiple subjects that you really like and that you're good at. For example, if you can't decide whether to study PE or Physics, the 2021 report shows that Physics is more competitive, with a median score of 30, scaling up to 32, whereas the same study score in PE would scale down to 27.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't study the less competitive subject - it just means that you should be aware of how tough the competition will be. The report is a great indicator as there is little difference in the scaled VTAC Scaled Study Scores from year to year.
What is an ATAR?
The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is a rank between 0 and 99.95 that shows how you compare to others within Australia. It provides students with a common score for tertiary selection across the entire country and is used to get into most undergraduate university courses.
Even though it is a combination of your results in VCE units 3 and 4, the ATAR is not a measure of intelligence or ability. It's simply a way of making sure students get into the right course for their academic achievement, interests and aspirations.
How is the ATAR calculated?
The ATAR is calculated using an aggregate score (a combined total, if you like). This score is made up of your results in units 3 and 4 and is the total of your permissible scaled study scores.
This number can range from 0 to over 210 (in exceptional cases) and is also reported on your ATAR statement. To convert your aggregate to an ATAR, everyone's aggregate score is placed in order on a percentile scale.
The student group with the highest aggregates are assigned the highest ATAR of 99.95. What this means is they have performed better than 99.95% of all students. The next highest group will be given an ATAR of 99.90 and so on, down to those who have achieved an ATAR of less than 30.
Which scores go towards the aggregate?
Your aggregate is made up of your primary four studies (your strongest units) and a maximum of two available (and permissible) increments. Subject to certain restrictions they may include:
VCE Unit 3 and 4 sequences
Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs (Unit 3 and 4 sequences)
Other approved VET studies (VE3), and
One approved higher education study
Please note that only some of these can be included in your top four, while others can only be used as increments. If you have more than six results, only the six (permissible) best are used that give the highest ATAR.
These are the four studies that are used to compute your overall (aggregate) score first. The primary four are the sum of:
your VTAC Scaled Study Score in one of the English group (English, English (EAL), Literature or English Language) and
the next highest three (permissible) scaled study scores.
During the calculation of your aggregate, if available, a maximum of two increments are added to your primary four.
Increments could be:
10% of a fifth or sixth permissible scaled score
a permissible unscored VCE or VE3 increment
a permissible higher education study increment
Year 12 credit for studies completed interstate
an increment for legitimate one year students
For more information regarding the rules that apply to the inclusion of studies from the same study area grouping, equivalent studies, scored and unscored VCE VET studies, VE3 block credit, and approved higher education studies, check out the 2022 VTAC scaling guide on the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre website.
While it's important to understand why certain VCE studies scale, this should not be your primary motive when choosing your subjects. Remember that you should be choosing the subjects you're passionate about and that fit well with your future goals.
When it comes down to it, your focus as a VCE student should be on getting the best VCE results possible in all of your subjects, not just those that will give you the boost come ATAR time! If you have any questions regarding subject selection or general VCE advice, check out our VCE Tutoring program for more information.
Also keep in mind, that yes - ATARs are important, but they're not everything. Have a look at the various study designs on the VCAA website, choose your subjects wisely and good luck!